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Civil Rights Group Seeks Action On Airport Profiling

Mistreatment reported by another Muslim traveler wearing a hijab

eTN Staff Writer  Jan 08, 2010

A prominent national Muslim civil rights and advocacy group today sent a letter to President Obama seeking action on concerns that Muslim travelers wearing religious head scarves, or hijab, are now being automatically singled out for additional security measures and may face mistreatment at airports.

The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) sent that letter following another report of a Muslim traveler allegedly being treated harshly during a four-hour interrogation by US officials at the Canadian border.

The Muslim woman, who holds a Canadian passport, says she was held for questioning Monday at Halifax Stanfield International Airport, during which she was allegedly shouted at and made to feel like a "terrorist." She was trying to board a plane to Ohio to visit her husband, but was ultimately denied entry to the United States. When the Muslim traveler asked whether she had been singled out because she was the only woman wearing a head scarf, she reportedly received no answer.

In his letter to the president, CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad stated: "The American Muslim community appreciates your administration's efforts to keep our nation safe and secure. American Muslims offer their full support in that effort. We believe, however, that airport safety is not enhanced by singling out travelers based on their ethnicity, race, or religion. In fact, we believe profiling is both ineffective and counterproductive. Racial and religious profiling serves to alienate and stigmatize entire groups of travelers, while providing only a false sense of security for the traveling public.

"Effective alternatives to ineffective profiling include better coordination between law enforcement and security agencies, more bomb-sniffing dogs and bomb-detecting devices at airports, better pay and training for TSA personnel, and - most effective of all - screening of passengers based on analysis of suspicious behaviors, not on their skin color or religious attire."

Awad's letter also cited the president's address to the Muslim world last year in Cairo, in which he stated: "[F]reedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion... That is why the US government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab and to punish those who would deny it."

Yesterday, CAIR called on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to clarify whether Islamic head scarves will now automatically trigger additional security measures for Muslim travelers.

CAIR made that request after a Muslim woman traveler taking a flight Tuesday from Washington Dulles International Airport reported that TSA personnel first requested that she take off her hijab, then put her through a "humiliating" public full-body pat-down search when she refused.

Nadia Hassan, 40, of Maryland said she was patted down in front of her daughter, 5, and several male TSA staffers. "It was very humiliating. It was very uncomfortable," Hassan told The Detroit News via a telephone interview from California. "I didn't say anything. I didn't want to cause any trouble. ... I'm an American. I'm not a foreigner. My country is treating me this way?"

When the traveler, a resident of Maryland, questioned TSA staff about the way she was being treated, she was allegedly told that a new policy went into effect that morning mandating that "anyone wearing a head scarf must go through this type of search."

On Monday, CAIR said new TSA guidelines, under which anyone traveling from or through 13 Muslim-majority nations will be required to go through enhanced screening techniques before boarding flights, amount to religious and ethnic profiling.

Mistreatment reported by another Muslim traveler wearing a hijab
Nadia Hassan / Image via

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